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A CurtainUp Review
The Wild Party

I'll make a change
Do something strange
Let's lift a glass to better days
And raise the roof.

Sutton Foster and Steven Pasquale (Photo: Joan Marcus
The Wild Party, Joseph Moncure March's 1928 narrative poem, was originally banned in Boston, obviously too wild for Bostonians with its theme, "Some love is fire: some love is rust/ But the fiercest, cleanest love is lust." In Andrew Lippa's musical adaptation Queenie, a hot-blooded vaudeville dancer, hooks up with an equally lusty showbiz clown, Burrs and sharing a stormy relationship and eccentric friends, they throw parties as tumultuous as their affair.

Lippa's musical wraps up the 2015 Off-Center Encores! series. The story starts with a wail of a trumpet before one raucous night in the 1920's. Queenie, tired of being brutalized by Burrs, decides to throw a party, shake things up and make Burrs jealous until she can plan what to do with her life. Burr, bored, agrees to the shindig, they invite all their friends and get plenty of booze and whatever else.

Playing the wild child, Queenie, is Broadway's grinning, musical darling, Sutton Foster, getting down but never dirty in a platinum wig and Clint Ramos' costumes in white-hot silk and sequins. Stephen Pasquale portrays her lover, Burrs, with a threatening slow burn as he and Queenie scour the party separately, restlessly. Around them, the joint is jumping, the bathtub is topped with a wooden plank holding bottles, the colorful assortment of guests shimmy in.

Queenie's on-and-off friend, Kate (Joaquina Kalukango) arrives with a handsome stranger. Queenie looks up, Burrs is on alert and an uneasy vibe shivers through the room. Played by Brandon Victor Dixon, the stranger with the satin voice is called Mr. Black. He is well-dressed and his eye is on Queenie. She knows it and Burrs knows it.

Originally produced at Manhattan Theatre Club ( Review)) Lippa's adaptation waged a competed Michael John LaChiusa's show which went to Broadway but soon closed ( review) but also for a short run. Both shows were based on the March poem but with different concentrations.Lippa's totally sung-through version focuses on the three-part abusive affair between Queeniee Burrs and Mr. Black, who offers Queenie a more hopeful love with a revival sound in, "I'll Be Here."

. Both shows were based on the March poem but with different concentrations. Almost totally sung-through, Lippa's version focuses on the three-part abusive affair between Queenie, the abusive Burrs, and Mr. Black, who offers Queenie a more hopeful love with a revival sound in, "I'll Be Here."

Director Leigh Silverman keeps up the tension between the three leads, holding audience attention as Queenie's attraction to Mr. Black grows and Burrs' jealousy is ready to erupt. The oncoming tragedy is predictable. Still, the pacing is uneven and the party begins to drag after Act I.

Chris Fenwick leads an on-stage orchestra playing Lippa's largely sung-through pastiche score with sounds of jazz, gospel and pop. In a shrewd move to spice up the story, some guests step forth to deliver stand-alone songs. In one show-stealer, Miriam Shor, as lesbian Madelaine True, strolls the room with wry menace, hunting out a likely prey in, "An Old-Fashioned Love Story.” Less memorable is a look-back at vaudeville with the too-cute, "We're Two of a Kind" sung by macho Eddie towering over tiny silly Mae. It says nothing more about the two and feels stuck into the show, easy to remove if necessary. Kalukango as Kate, ruffly in yellow, belts her arrival with a demanding, "Look at Me Now," showing off some heavy duty vocals.

Foster's authoritative delivery, Pasquale's focused characterization, and Brandon Victor Dixon's beautifully nuanced vocals all communicate the changeable moods in the room. Queenie's lament, "Maybe I Like It This Way," is the typical victim song. Burr's follow-up with "What Is It About Her?" shows his own addiction to her and as Kate tries to divert his attention, he shoves her away. The singular focus of a wild party getting wilder just gets tired.

In "Happy Endings," Lippa's substitute ending song for Queenie, she is forced to admit that any choices for changing her life are now destroyed. It is a satisfying ending to a woman who waited too long.

Choreography is by Sonya Tayeh, standing out with the "Juggernaut," that draws in the guests and highlights Foster's dance agility. Donyale Werle designed a set to seat the nine-piece orchestra in back and leave space for a party crowd carrying on. Clint Ramos' crayon box of colors does fanciful work on the guests' costumes.

The Wild Party succeeds as a love story doomed to crash but elevated by songs in A-plus style by Sutton Foster, Stephen Pasquale, and Brandon Victor Dixon. Add the fierce Joaquina Kalukango and Miriam Shor's moment in the spotlight and all who caught the brief run did not go wrong.

The Wild Party
Book, music and lyrics by Andrew Lippa, based on the poem by Joseph Moncure March
Directed by Leigh Silverman
Cast: Ryan Andes (Eddie), Brandon Victor Dixon (Black), Sutton Foster (Queenie), Joaquina Kalukango (Kate), Talene Monahon (Mae), Steven Pasquale (Burrs), Miriam Shor (Madelaine True), Renée Albulario (Nadine), James Brown III (the Neighbor), Rachel de Benedet (Dolores), Raymond J. Lee (Max), Clifton Oliver (Oscar d’Armano), Charlie Pollock (Sam/the Cop) and Britton Smith (Phil d’Armano). Music director, Chris Fenwick
Choreography by Sonya Tayeh
Sets by Donyale Werle
Costumes by Clint Ramos
Lighting by Mark Barton
Sound by Leon Rothenberg
Music coordinator, Seymour Red Press
Orchestrations by Michael Gibson
Stage manager, Adam John Hunter
An Encores! Off-Center production, presented by New York City Center
Running time: 2 hours
Through July 18 Reviewed by Elizabeth Ahlfors
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